It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for several Steelers players as they were selected to the 2019 Pro Bowl.
Six players were selected, including Antonio Brown, James Conner, David DeCastro, Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva.
This is the 18th straight season the Steelers are sending multiple players to the Pro Bowl, and the 27th time in the last 30 seasons.
A look at the Steelers Pro Bowl selections:
Since everyone says the offense starts up front, the offensive line gets their props first.
Maurkice Pouncey has been selected for the seventh time, David DeCastro will make his fourth straight trip to the Pro Bowl, and Alejandro Villanueva has made it for the second consecutive time. The offensive line has allowed on 20 sacks this season, the fourth fewest in the NFL.All three were selected as starters.
“They are long, very long,” said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. “They do a good job using their hands. They are well coached. Mike (Munchak) does a good job. They do a really good job of keeping the blockers away from their body, protecting inside out. Roethlisberger does a good job of staying in the pocket, stepping up. Sometimes they get peppered back into him a little bit. They hold their ground and Ben throws it right over them. It is a very good group inside. Those are probably as good an inside group of players there is in the league. The tackles do a good job too.
“It’s an excellent group offensively at every position. They are solid all the way through. It’s a good football team.”
Ben Roethlisberger is without a doubt the number one fan of the team’s offensive line, and for good reason as they give him time and create holes like no other.
“They are the best line in the league,” said Roethlisberger. “They really are the reason I stay upright and healthy. They are the most important part of this team because as they go, we go.”
Like Roethlisberger, Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn is also a fan of the Steelers line.
“I think the offensive line has done an outstanding job of protecting him and giving him time to throw the ball,” said Lynn. “I think they have done a heck of a job. I think they are one of the best we saw all year. They are big. They are powerful. When they do run it, they are physical. They are doing a good job of being efficient. They are doing a heck of a job protecting Ben in the passing game.”
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When it comes to Antonio Brown, the Pro Bowl has almost become a given. Brown was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, including six consecutive ones.
Brown, who continues to be a highlight reel with his amazing catches, sets an example for not just his teammates, but also for receivers around the NFL with his work ethic and how it translates onto the field.
“They move him around everywhere. You don’t know where he’s going to be,” said Raiders Coach Jon Gruden. “He can run every route you dream up. I say that about other receivers, but he can run double moves, he can run by you, he can run crossing routes, he’s very good after the catch.
“What’s the greatest thing about this man, I’ve told all of our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him. He’s the hardest working man, I think, in football. Hardest working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”
Brown, the AFC’s fourth leading receiver in receptions with 90 through 14 games for 1,112 yards, is on pace to have his sixth straight 100-catch season. He leads the Steelers and the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns.
“He’s good. They move him around,” said Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “They will put him in the slot some, put him on the backside in a Z or X and do different things with him. He’s a very good route runner. He’s good at the line of scrimmage, as far as getting off press. He’s precise in and out of his routes. Obviously, he has good hands and he’s good after the catch.”
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In his first year as a starter James Conner has opened a lot of eyes. While his teammates knew he was capable of stepping in and accepting the tall task of taking over the Steelers ground game, those around the NFL didn’t fully know what to expect from the second-year running back.
What they saw was a player who handled things like a seasoned veteran and that is why Conner was selected to his first Pro Bowl, selected as a starter.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s really stepped up,” said Jaguars Coach Doug Marrone. “He’s a Pro Bowl running back. The line’s a good line, they’ve got really good field players. But his ability to break tackles, to run. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him and he’s doing that at an extremely high level where I know he was my vote for the Pro Bowl.”
Conner missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, but still has 201 carries for 909 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, tied for second in the NFL. He is also second in yards from scrimmage with 1,376, leading all AFC running backs in the category, and leads the AFC in first downs.
“He’s great,” said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “On film, he looks about 5-5. He looks 5-5 on film and probably like 160 pounds, but when you look at him on the depth chart, he’s 6-1 and he’s pretty heavy too. He’s a great player, he’s able to hit the holes the right way and take screens and catch the ball. Whatever it is, he’s a complete running back 100 percent.”
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Consistent. Relentless. Dominant. Fierce.
Those four words describe Cameron Heyward.
So do these four words.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle.
Heyward was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time, although he was selected as a replacement player last year when many felt he was snubbed for the postseason all-star game.
“Cam Heyward quite frankly is just a dominant player,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “He is dominant versus the run. He is dominant versus the pass. He is a guy that gets the opportunity to rush all over the front for us, against tackles, against guards, against centers. We ask him to do a lot. Last year’s first Pro Bowl season was well-deserved. Probably had some deserving seasons prior to that, but he had the splash numbers, the 12 plus sacks was significant.”
Heyward has six sacks, 46 tackles – second among AFC defensive tackles - two pass defenses, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. It’s the pressure that Heyward brings, getting in the face of opposing quarterbacks, that makes him such a nuisance for offenses. He has 16 quarterback pressures this year, and those have made a huge difference for the defense.
“He has been just as dominant here in 2018,” said Tomlin. “Maybe the sack total doesn’t reflect it, but his play sure does, both versus the run and the pass. Cam is a quality man not only as a player, but as a leader. Not only for our defense, but for our football team.”
Heyward, who is the Steelers nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year, spent Tuesday bringing holiday joy to the patients at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, delivering 300 jerseys to the kids.
“Most of these kids will never be at a game,” said Heyward. “Some might not be able to afford a jersey. I know it doesn’t do much, but maybe it will spread a little cheer. Everyone deserves a Christmas present.”
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The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
PHOTOS: 2019 Pro Bowl Selections
Take a look at the Steelers players that were selected for the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando, FL.